Email Campaigns: Why Big Data and Understanding Your Customer Matter Most

  |  February 21, 2014   |  Comments

Email is a personal medium, and for the recipient it feels very one-to-one. Information you already have about your email customers can help you craft more personal messaging, letting your audience feel like you're talking with them, not at them.

Email is a personal medium, and for the recipient it feels very one-to-one, just like the emails they receive from friends and family. Information you already have about your email customers can help you craft more personal messaging, letting your audience feel like you're talking with them, not at them. A personal connection with a potential consumer will go a long way in establishing brand loyalty.

Email marketing company Responsys found that using customer data to better craft your campaigns increases unique open rates by more than 70 percent, and click-through rates by more than 55 percent. Here are some tips on how to use data to better connect with your customers through email marketing.

Not All Your Customers Love You as Much as Your Best Customers. And That's OK.

One of the simplest ways to increase engagement with email marketing is to divide your list into cohorts of "Actives" and "Lapsed" openers. Every business has a different view of what "Active" and "Lapsed" means to them. Here at Keep, we consider "Active" to be someone who has opened at least one of our emails in the past 30 days. Once cohorts are built, you can vary subject lines and copy with the goal of re-engaging your lapsed openers, and forging deeper connections with your active openers. A popular and effective way to re-engage lapsed users is to specifically address that they've lapsed in the subject line. (Remember, at best, they're only seeing your subject line since, well, they've stopped opening your emails!) Some examples of subject lines to attract lapsed users back to the messaging:

  • Was it something we said?
  • We miss you! 
  • You saw this, right?
  • You mad?
  • Are you breaking up with us?

Active vs. Lapsed is pretty basic. There are literally endless cohorts you can create to effectively target the right message to the most receptive audience. One we use at Keep is to welcome new members based on how they came to know about our service. A partnership with a blogger, for example, creates email opt-ins for us, and we welcome those new members with copy and creative that acknowledges the blogger and the program we did together.

Target Customers as Best as Your Data Permits.

Whatever demographic or purchase data you have about your customers can and should be used to target appropriate messaging through email campaigns. In a perfectly run campaign, a business would know that Suzy Shopper purchased a skirt two weeks ago, and would suggest a top that goes with that skirt in a subsequent email to her. I've yet to see that level of personalization, but it can and will happen soon. Even simple data sets can lead to customization - gender, geography, and specific known actions with your product/service. At Keep, for example, we targeted members who had a Holiday Wishlist on our service to encourage them to share it with friends, and at the same time, we targeted members who did not yet have a Holiday Wishlist, suggesting that the create one, then share. Even more basic, we promote our iOS app only to members that we know haven't yet downloaded it.

Subject Lines

The best tip I ever heard was, "Have the person who writes your tweets write your subject lines." Here at Keep, we do. And it works. Subject lines are miniature (and frequent) ad impressions, giving your audience a bit of your brand every time they see you in the inbox. While you want your customers to click and engage, realistically you know that won't happen 100 percent of the time. Make sure your subject lines encourage engagement (opens), but also communicate something of value about your brand as well. For example, what does Geico do, again? Yup, save you 15 percent in 15 minutes or less. Frequent, repetitive branding penetrates over time.

And, opens matter, too! A MailChimp study found personalization, such as the inclusion of a consumer's name, as well as time sensitivity, such as "open now" or "today only," are appealing to consumers and drive open rates for brands. In addition, consumers sure do love a good deal when they see one, so lead with a value message, when appropriate.

Pro tip! If you're not using the secondary subject line (also known as a pre-header) for additional branding or as a call-to-engage, you're missing out on valuable real estate. Most email client defaults their display such that the first line of text in your email appears as a "secondary subject line" in their inbox. Use this real estate to support your campaign messaging. At Keep, we'll often use a thematic and quippy subject line, supported with a call-to-enter a contest in the secondary subject line.

Don't Forget the Point...Purchase.

As an email marketer, you may have goals around opens and clicks. But the real goal is to drive sales of your product/service, right? Everything your email does within the creative, copy, and outbound links should support the customer as they discover and then set out to buy your product. Creative should speak to the value prop of your product/service. Links should lead to simple, directed landing pages for purchase. Help should always be easy to reach. Basic, sure, but just be careful not to high-five at a new click-through rate without following the clicks to see if the company's goals are being met.

Always Learn

Every campaign should be followed by a post-mortem, using data to learn what worked and what didn't and therefore, what should be done next time. If you achieve a milestone open rate, use that cohort and subject line combination again and again, testing new ideas until a new control is found. You're lucky that your customers have invited you into their inbox, so be smart about your visit and reap the rewards so many marketers experience from their data-driven, creative, and thoughtful campaigns.

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MaryAnn Bekkedahl

MaryAnn Bekkedahl is co-founder and president of The Swizzle and an expert in email organization. She was named Adweek Media's "Publishing Executive of the Year" in 2009. She has earned spots for her brands on the prestigious and highly coveted trade lists including AdWeek's Hot List, and Advertising Age's A-List. Min magazine named her one of the "Most Intriguing People" of 2004, Gotham magazine named her one of its "40 under 40" in 2003, and Advertising Age named her a "Woman to Watch" in 2003. She holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan.

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